Posts Tagged: dragonflies
Don't you just love those dragonflies?
We watch them circle our fish pond, grab flying insects in mid-air, and then touch down on a bamboo stake in our yard to eat them. Some dragonflies stay for hours; others for what seems like half a second. Some let you walk up to them and touch them. Others are so skittish that they must have once encountered a nasty predator with a bad attitude and a big appetite unfulfilled.
We've observed several different species in our yard (thanks to naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, volunteer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, for identifying the Sympetrums and the "widow skimmer," Libellula luctosa).
The ones we've photographed:
- Red flame skimmer or firecracker skimmer (Libellula saturata), a common dragonfly of the family Libellulidae, native to western North America.
- Variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum), a dragonfly of the family Libellulidae, native to North America.
- Widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), part of the King Skimmers group of dragonflies that are found throughout much of the United States, except in John Denver territory (The Rockies). You can find them in parts of Canada, including southern Ontario and Quebec.
- Red-veined meadowhawk (Sympetrium madidum), found throughout much of the United States (Alaska, California, Colorado, Iowa, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming) and much of Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Yukon)
Can you believe dragonflies were some of the first winged insects that evolved 300 millions years ago? And that the order they belong to, Odonata, means "toothed one" in Greek?
Can you believe that globally, we have more than 5,000 known species of dragonflies?
Can you believe that dragonflies eat only the prey they catch in mid-air? And that they grab them with their feet? Umm, dead bee on the ground? No, thanks!
Can you believe that dragonfly called the globe skinner has the longest migration of any insect—11,000 miles back and forth across the Indian Ocean?
For those and other interesting facts, be sure to read Sarah Zielinski's "14 fun facts about dragonflies" published Oct. 5, 2011 in smithsonian.com
For a close look at some of the Bohart Museum's collection of dragonflies, you can visit the insect museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, from Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. noon, and from noon to 5 p.m. (excluding holidays). Admission is free. You can even buy dragonfly-related items in the gift shop. That would include posters (the work of Greg Kareofelas and Fran Keller) and jewelry.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses nearly eight million insect specimens. And not just dragonflies, bees and butterflies. There are critters you've never seen before. And some, such as the Xerces butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), are extinct.
The Bohart's next weekend open house, the last of the 2013-2014 academic year, is Saturday, July 26 from 1 to 4 p.m. The theme focuses on spiders: "Arachnids: Awesome or Awful?" It's family-oriented and free and open to the public. (For more information contact Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Red flame skimmer or firecracker skimmer (Libellula saturata). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Red-veined meadowhawk (Sympetrium madidum). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days--three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain,” wrote John Keats in Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne.
"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you," wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne
An Irish blessing reads:
"May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond."
From time immortal, we humans have depicted butterflies in our art. There's something about the ballet of butterflies that soothes our mind, brightens our spirit, and captures our soul.
So it is with the talented artists exhibiting their work at McCormack Hall during the five-day Solano County Fair, 900 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo. The fair opens Wednesday, July 31 and ends Sunday, Aug. 4.
Vallejo resident Yoko Warncke cross-stitched butterflies for her needlework exhibit. Another Vallejo resident, Tina Waycie, crafted a paper butterfly and flowers.
Trudy Molina of Fairfield depicted "The Hungry Caterpillar" in a baby quilt. It's a quilt sure to be treasured. It reminds us of the quote by Richard Buckminster Fuller: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
Vallejoan LaQuita Tummings quilted a beautiful bee, dragonfly and ladybug, so spectacular that you just want to sit and study it.
We watched Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of the McCormack Hall building and her adult and youth assistants hang many of the displays. They're involved in the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, throughout the year, but in the summer when the Solano County Fair rolls around, they're at McCormack Hall accepting entries, recording results and displaying the work.
Insect art is just a small part of the displays in McCormack Hall. You'll see photography, collections, table settings, clothing, baked goods, jams and jellies, and even some farm equipment.
It all ties in with the fair theme, "Home Grown Fun."
Gloria Gonzalez (left) of Vallejo, superintendent of McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, and assistant Iris Mayhew of Vallejo hang a quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of blue-ribbon quilt by LaQuita Tummings of Vallejo. It features a bee, dragonfly and ladybug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Iris Mayhew of Vallejo, an assistant at McCormack Hall, Solano County Fair, with "The Hungry Caterpillar" quilt by Trudy Molina of Fairfield. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This paper art, of a butterfly and flowers, is the work of Tina Waycie of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
I usually can't get within 25 yards of a dragonfly.
Not so in our back yard.
A flame skimmer or firecracker skimmer (Libellula saturata) has apparently decided that this is where he wants to be.
Last Saturday, for nine hours, he perched on a six-foot-high bamboo stake, leaving only for a few seconds at a time to snag a flying insect before returning to eat his prey.
The flame skimmer, about a 2.5-inch Odonata, looks prehistoric. In fact, according to a UC Berkeley website, "The oldest recognizable fossils of the group (Odonata) belong to the Protodonata, an ancestral group that is now extinct. The earliest fossils so far discovered come from Upper Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) sediments in Europe formed about 325 million years ago. Like modern-day dragonflies, the Protodonata were fast-flying with spiny legs that may have assisted in capturing prey; their wingspan was up to 75 centimeters (30 inches). The group went extinct in the Triassic, about the time that dinosaurs began to appear."
Meanwhile, back in our yard (325 million years into the future), Big Red kept snagging insects and flying back to his six-foot-high perch to eat them. Then occasionally he'd claim a five-foot-high bamboo stake. Too much high rise? A little acrophobia?
At first I kept my distance, hoping I wouldn't frighten him. However, he just looked at me as if I were part of the permanent landscape. Camera movement didn't faze him. After capturing multiple images from every angle possible, I thrust the macro lens about an inch away from his head. He did not move.
Am I a dragonfly whisperer or just lucky?
The flame skimmer prefers a habitat of warm water ponds, slow streams or hot springs. We have a fish pond, a pool and a birdbath in our yard, so I guess that's why he hangs out here.
And we have the perfect perches--bamboo stakes. They're meant to stake our tomato plants but now they're "dragonfly sticks."
We suspect Big Red won't last long. A Mama scrub jay is nesting in our shrubbery and when her babies chirp for food, off she flies in search of a tasty morsel. Mama Bird chased a bright orange gulf fritillary butterfly (missed!) and now, I expect, she'll go after Big Red.
It's a bug-eat-bug world out there, and sometimes it's a bird-eat-bug world when you don't want it to be.
A flame skimmer perches on a bamboo stake. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Different view, different time: same flame skimmer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Flame skimmer peeks over the bamboo stake. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From the back, the flame skimmer is equally gorgeous. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Flame skimmer devouring lunch, an insect he caught in mid-air. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're around creeks, ponds and irrigation ditches, watch for the dragonflies.
We spotted scores of variegated meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) last Sunday along an irrigation ditch bordering a sunflower field in Winters, Calif.
Like helicopters, they hovered, soared, dropped, sped up and slowed down. Dragonflies can reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour, according to an article, "Chasing Dragons," in the current edition of Audubon.
Written by Jill U. Adams, the article details the art of watching dragonflies, and how this is becoming a passion like birdwatching.
Entomologists call dragonflies "odes," after their order, Odonata. They're also called "dragons."
"Dating back more than 250 million years, odes were around long before the dinosaurs appeared," Adams wrote.
"Odes are easy enough to find at a pond or stream around mid-morning, after the sun has warmed the air. They fly and perch, hunt and mate, from spring until fall."
She quotes dragonfly expert Larry Federman, education coordinator for the three Audubon New York sanctuaries, as saying: "Once you start watching dragonflies, you can't help but notice how amazing they are. They fly at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, zip forward and backward, pivot in a flash and hover with ease. They prey on live insects in midair, snapping up small bugs with their mouths or grabbing larger ones with their legs, then perching to devour them."
In Winters, we watched their mating rituals. Their bodies hooked together, their double set of wings glittering like precious jewels, they dazzled us with their maneuvers, speed and beauty. So fast, so very fast. (But things are not what they seem; be sure to read National Geographic's piece on the dragonfly mating game.)
What's spectacular about the Audubon feature is a row of 16 dragonfly abdomens lined up like arrowheads or surfboards.
And yes, among the 16 abdomens: the variegated meadowhawk.
It's not as striking as the flame skimmer (that one is firecracker red!), but its coloration is sure to please.
Variegated meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum, glows in the early morning. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A camouflaged variegated meadowhawk. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dragonfly mating ritual. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Up close and personal, those blue damselflies (suborder Zygoptera, order Odonata) look prehistoric.
Fact is, they were here before the dinosaurs.
These needlelike insects add an iridescent presence as they fly awkwardy over our fish pond, catching prey. In the early morning, they land in our nectarine tree. They're not there to pick nectarines. They're warming their flight muscles.
Their brilliant colors draw us to them. But their huge compound eyes quickly notice us and off they go.
Blue damselfy resting on nectarine leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Wide view of a blue damselfly perched on a nectarine leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)